“There remains little reason to be a Protestant,” declared prof. Eduard Kimman, a Jesuit priest and Secretary General of the Bishop’s Conference of the Netherlands, in an interview with journalist Emiel Hakkenes in 2008. “I doubt whether Protestantism will make it to 2017, 500 years after the Reformation. Protestants have inadequately responded to the changes in the Catholic Church. And they fail to recognize the significance of a visible and global leadership, such as the Pope’s,” Kimman continued, “Protestants sometimes charge us with rigidity, but this charge might also be reversed. I see Protestants as an action group that has forgotten to disband itself after their goal was reached. The Roman Catholic Church has changed. Protestants should return to the mother church. We need each other, to collectively proclaim the significance of Jesus Christ in our de-christened society.”
More recently, on 21 January 2014, Anglican bishop and ecumenical officer Tony Palmer, a personal friend and protégé of Pope Francis, made similar remarks at a gathering of evangelical and Charismatic ministers hosted by Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Texas. Palmer claimed that the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, “brought an end to the protest of Luther.” He then added with a grin, “If there is no more protest, how can there be a Protestant church?” Bishop Palmer also shared a video message of Pope Francis which he had recorded with his phone during a private audience with the Pontiff a few days earlier. “Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope said, “Let us come together like Joseph and his brothers.”
These developments indicate that the work of the ecumenical movement, which seeks the full restoration of the unity of all Christendom, is nearing completion. The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church have already jointly celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Before we join their celebration, however, we would do well to inquire: Is there still a reason to be a Protestant? Why was there a reformation in the first place? What exactly moved Luther and other reformers in their day? Why are Protestants no longer protesting today? Is the demise of Protestantism inevitable? or may we expect a revival of its principles, perhaps even another Reformation?
In order to answer these questions, let us briefly trace the history of Protestantism from its inception unto the present. Following the death of the twelve apostles, so-called church fathers introduced numerous unscriptural doctrines and practices into the churches, resulting in a gradual departure from the apostolic faith. The apostasy of the church accelerated when the Christian bishops clasped hands with the Roman Emperor Constantine, who fostered a religious syncretism between Christianity and paganism that continued down the ages. In due course, Christian doctrine was blended with Aristotelian philosophy; heathen idols were renamed after saints and martyrs; and pagan rituals and ceremonies were veiled in Biblical language. The Catholic religion was enforced by the state, depriving medieval man of his civil and religious liberties. The reading of the Bible was prohibited in the vernacular and ecclesiastical traditions and superstitions prevailed throughout society. The clergy dominated the consciences of men and so-called heretics were hailed before the inquisitions, tortured, banished from their homes, deprived of their property, cast into dungeons, and burned at the stake.
It was in such religio-political settings that Martin Luther (1483 – 1546 ) was born. Reared in the piety of medieval times, and terrified by a sudden thunderstorm, he became a monk in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505, in order to seek the salvation of his soul. After years of monasticism, asceticism, confessions, penance, prayers, vigils, fastings, and freezings, besides trusting in the intercession of the saints and the Virgin Mary, his own good works, and the merits of his order – he still had not found peace with God. In 1510 Luther visited Rome, and as he joined the pilgrims in climbing Pilate’s Staircase upon his knees, a voice thundered in his ears, “The just shall live by faith!” Luther had often read this text in the book of Romans. Now, the meaning of it flashed through his mind with clarity and brightness. Appalled by his own superstition, he arose from his knees, and returned home. Henceforth he found himself disillusioned with the church’s way of salvation, and clung to “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15).
When Martin Luther famously nailed his 95-theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, it was the inevitable result of his personal quest for salvation. This event marks the beginning of the reformation. His theses constituted not only a protest against ecclesiastical abuses, such as the selling of indulgences, but also a positive testimony to the light of truth he had rediscovered after centuries of spiritual and moral decay.
The Catholic Church, more fond of tradition than truth, rejected Luther’s protest and excommunicated him in 1521. The reformer was subsequently summoned before the Imperial Diet of Worms by the devout Catholic Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1558), where he was forced to recant his “heretical teachings.” Here Luther courageously replied: “I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest reasoning, … and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen.”
Instead of abandoning the Scriptures, Luther began his German translation of the Bible that same year, a work he completed in 1534. He thus provided Protestantism with its sure foundation, for “the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the whole religion of Protestants.” Historically speaking, however, Protestantism owes its name to the courageous protest of six German Lutheran princes before the Imperial Diet at Spires in 1529. They objected against the Imperial Ban of the Diet of Worms (1521) against Martin Luther, and the proscription of his works and teachings, and protested against the measures taken by the Emperor to deprive the Protestant minority of the religious liberties granted them three years earlier. In their famous Protest and Appellation, the Princes declared “that our will, feeling, and opinion is nothing but to seek only the honour of God Almighty, his holy Word and the salvation of our souls, and not to act contrary to that which our conscience declares and teaches…” It is this courageous protest that gave the reform movement the name of Protestants.
In due course, other reformers also laid hold of the work and the evangelical faith rapidly spread throughout Europe and beyond. The movement had a lasting impact upon society, affecting not only the homes and churches of its adherents, but also the education and politics of future generations. A lengthy discussion of all that happened lies beyond the scope of this article, but it suffices to say that the Protestant reformation essentially began as a quest for personal salvation and liberty of conscience. This quest resulted in the rediscovery of the Bible as the word of God; a plea for the right to believe and obey this word according to one’s own convictions; a protest against religio-political infringement of these rights; a gradual return to the purity of primitive Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ; and an objection against the great apostasy of the Catholic Church, in deviating so terribly from the Scriptures.
The Reformation Continued
“What will take place after we are gone?” Martin Luther asked in one of his sermons. Today, the name Protestant is commonly used to describe the Christian churches that trace their roots to the Protestant reformation. These include the Lutheran, Presbyterian (Calvinist), Anglican (Episcopal), Baptist, Methodist, Adventist, and most Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. All call themselves Protestant. What’s in a name? Is there still a reason to be a Protestant? Does personal salvation still matter? Is liberty of conscience still worth contending for? Is the Bible, and the Bible alone, still the whole religion of Protestants?
The history of Protestantism tells the story of the play and counter-play of reformation and counter-reformation, progression and regression, revival and apostasy. Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952), an English Christian evangelist and respected biblical scholar, points out that “the Reformation, glorious as it was, witnessed only a partial recovery of long lost truths.” Since the recovery of truth is a progressive and ongoing work, it might be argued that the reformation has never really come to an end. Since its inception, there have been various periods of revival in which important truths were rediscovered through a diligent study of the Scriptures, and these movements might be considered as being a continuation of the Protestant reformation.
Pink points out that “it was not until the nineteenth century” that the Second Advent Movement (1798-1844) restored the “hope of the church” through its solemn proclamation of the second coming of Jesus Christ. “The result has been that an ever increasing number of the saints have given studious attention to the prophetic portions of the Word, until, to-day, in every section of Christendom, there are companies of believers” eagerly waiting for the coming of the Lord.
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century restored the FAITH of the church. The Great Second Advent movement of the nineteenth century restored the HOPE of the church. “And now these three remain,” writes St. Paul, “faith, hope and love; But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13). As we analyse church history in light of this text, it seems that there is yet to be another reformation that will restore the LOVE of the church. And since love is “the greatest of these,” it follows that this last reformation must of necessity be the greatest reformation in the history of the church.
Its focus must necessarily be on the total transformation of the believer’s heart and mind, in such a way that the lovely character of Jesus Christ will be revealed in his followers. Only thus can true love be restored to the churches. This profound change of character is what the Bible calls sanctification, which literally means to be made holy. When Jesus prayed for love and unity among his followers, “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them,” “that they all may be one,” he also prayed, “sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (see John 17:26,21,17). He thus showed that the quest for love and unity cannot be separated from the quest for truth and holiness. The love of the church will be restored only in proportion to the sanctification of its members; and their sanctification will be in proportion to their conformity to the truth of God’s word. It follows therefore, that just as faith and hope were restored to the church as a result of diligent Bible study – first by the reformers, and later by the adventists – so also the love and unity of the church will not be restored except as Christians return wholeheartedly to the word of God.
Unfortunately, Protestants have often lowered the Biblical standard of holiness and lost sight of the fact that God wants us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). The result has been an ongoing apostasy that has unsettled everything the reformers stood for. To cover the whole story of this apostasy would take more than a book, so all I propose to do at present is to briefly sketch its contours, and this but vague and imperfectly.
A discerning Protestant wrote at the beginning of the nineteenth century: “Some Christians have endeavoured to support the cause of Christianity by spurious books; some by juggling tricks, called miracles; some by the imposition of superstitious ceremonies; some by the propagation of absurd doctrines; some have pretended to explain it by a wretched philosophy; others have exposed it to derision under pretence of adorning it with allegory; some have pleaded for it by fines, and fires, and swords; others have incorporated it with civil interests; most have laid down false canons of interpretation… Above all, the loose lives of the professors of Christianity, and particularly of some of the ministers of it,” have robbed the church of her spiritual beauty and contributed to the general apostasy of the church. This more or less summarizes what has happened to Protestantism since the reformation, particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
While the early reformers esteemed the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, and held it to be the only rule of faith and practice, there has been an ongoing trend among Protestants to undermine its authority. The rationalism of liberal theology (e.g. higher criticism, theistic evolution), the emotionalism of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement, the pragmatism of modern evangelicalism (i.e. “whatever keeps the church going and growing,” to borrow a definition by Baptist preacher Paul Washer), the mysticism of the emergent church – all have played their part in subverting the Scriptures and overthrowing the pillars of the reformation. They are but so many attempts of a self-assured and carnal Christianity to provide a sense of religiosity and spirituality without the moral demands of divine authority. This rejection of the authority of God manifests itself in the rejection of his word and his law. (cf. Rom. 8:7).
The requirements of the law are no longer mentioned, for fear of hurting people’s feelings, resulting in moral decadence and slack church discipline. Instead of preaching what the Bible teaches, most ministers preach what their congregations desire to hear. “The trends reveal that people want less doctrine and more drama, less preaching and more props, less declaration and more dialogue. They want short, easy-to-listen-to sermons that don’t get too deep and that don’t focus too much on God and not enough on me.” This disparaging of Biblical truth and de-emphasis on doctrine has resulted in a subtle and gradual change from a Christ-centred theology to a man-centred theology: from Biblical Christianity to Christian humanism. Popular theologians tend to humanize Jesus, in order to make him more acceptable to the unbeliever, while at the same time flattering and deifying humanity. This explains why much of what is called “Christian” today is little more than humanism with a Christian badge. Old-school theologians used to focus on what God has done for man, (through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,) but modern theologians seem to be more interested in what man can do for God. O yes, Jesus is still mentioned, but he is no longer preached. Instead, gifted speakers and church leaders become the centre of attraction, and the church thrives on the flattering of their egos. Instead of searching the Scriptures to see what pleases God, these church growth strategists study psychology to figure out how to draw the crowds. In the 1980s, research showed that signs and wonders boost church attendance, and this gave a new impetus to the advertisement campaigns of Pentecostal and Charismatic prophets and miracle-workers, whose clever marketing strategies fill mega-churches and football stadiums with bewildered audiences. Meanwhile, Christian celebrities “rock the house of God” in supposedly “sacred worship” and every uncouth thing is hallowed as part of the “divine service.” The Bible condemns this unholy mixture, but the modern Christian seems to enjoy it all. There was a time when Jesus “cast out them that sold and bought in the temple,” but Christian business is back in vogue again and the latest Jesus T-shirts and jewellery are popular merchandise. It is fashion to wear Jesus on the outside nowadays, instead of bearing his image within.
This sketch of the apostasy of Protestantism doesn’t tell half the story, but it gives a general impression of what is going on. In any case, it explains why Protestants are no longer protesting. By forsaking the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, they have undermined the FAITH which the Protestant reformation restored to the church. It is not the Catholic church, but the Protestant church that has changed. Their apostasy from the Scriptures has paved the way for their return to the Catholic Church.
The Ecumenical Movement
The story of this return is the history of the ecumenical movement. This history began in the nineteenth century, when the rationalistic and humanizing tendency of Protestant theologians led to a significant change in their theology, following their general rejection of the Second Advent Movement. As they refused to wait for the catastrophic coming of the Kingdom of God at the second coming of Jesus Christ, many Protestant leaders soon felt that humanity must itself establish “the kingdom of God on earth”, i.e. a universal theocracy that would cure social ills and bring in the long expected millennium of peace. This idea was widely disseminated throughout North America by the Social Gospel movement (1890s-1920s), a brainchild of liberal theology. Its leaders propagated the idea that the “supreme business” of Christian men is to create a “Christian state on earth”. Instead of preaching the law of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, Protestant ministers now preached “Christian ethics” and “social justice” – fancy terms for righteousness by law, as opposed to righteousness by faith. Instead of submitting to the will of God, they now sought to enforce their own. Baptist minister Samuel Z. Batten (1859–1925), a leading spokesman of the movement, declared: “The Christian citizen will do all in his power to secure the enactment of good laws, and to bring in a better social order.” Ironically, the neglect of Protestants to faithfully preach the law and the gospel is arguably the cause of many of the social ills they now hoped to cure with a counterfeit. In any case, their counterfeit gospel of the kingdom undermined the HOPE which the advent movement restored to the church.
The social gospel was “a major factor, if not the major factor,” that brought about the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement seeks to restore the unity of all Christendom, which ultimately implies a reunion of Protestants with the Roman Catholic Church. So what will be the foundation of this Christian unity? The social gospel played a pivotal role in the formative stages of the ecumenical movement and the creation of the World Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical organization in the world (since its establishment in 1948). Since the social teachings of the WCC are remarkably similar to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, it seems that the fight against poverty and social ills is destined to provide a platform for the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics, and thus for the unification of all Christendom into a single ecclesiastical structure. This would bind nearly 600 million protestants and 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into a single religious body, making it at once the largest and most powerful lobby group in international politics. The idea of a universal theocracy thus becomes a potential reality. A terrifying thought, indeed, especially since the work of the ecumenical movement seems to be nearing completion.
Historically, of course, such a theocracy has ever been the objective of the papacy, and the Holy See seems to be well aware of the potential. In response to the global financial crisis, Pope Benedict XVI published the encyclical Caritas in Veritate in 2009 in which he called “for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance”. He also said that “there is urgent need of a true world political authority,” indicating that the UNO is destined to become a kind of universal super-state. The Pope clearly intends to use these financial, economic and political institutions to enforce the “ethical imperative for the universal Church” to feed the hungry and establish “social justice” through the “redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale.” The plan to redistribute the wealth of nations was first laid down by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the magna carta of Catholic social doctrine, and has since been the guideline of Vatican policy.
With this in mind, Pope Francis’ recent call to Protestants to “come together like Joseph and his brethren” is highly significant. The Bible relates the story of Joseph, a Hebrew youth sold into slavery by his brethren, who after years of servitude becomes the prime-minister of Egypt. The story culminates in a major economic crisis in which Joseph is reconciled to his brethren and administers a “redistribution of wealth” in which all private property is transferred from the citizens to the state. The result is a kind of feudal system in which the Egyptians tend the land of Pharaoh in exchange for food. Pope Francis’ identification with Joseph indicates he has a similar agenda. He hopes to be reconciled to his “separated brethren,” the Protestants, during a major economic crisis that will place the world at his feet. Many financial and economic experts believe a total collapse of the world economy is imminent. Once this takes place, high unemployment rates and rising food prices are likely to increase the “Pope Francis effect” and provide the ecumenical movement with a favourable opportunity to raise the cry for “social justice” to a higher pitch. This cry is destined to unite Catholics and Protestants in a political activism that will bring about a redistribution of wealth under papal supervision. The result will be a new economic order, reminiscent perhaps of the feudal system of medieval times, in which all men were bound together by rights and duties in a totalitarian system of interdependence. Pope Francis’ Latin American background and his espousal of liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor” are telling in this regard. Just as Joseph administered the financial and economic reforms of Egypt, so prophecy predicts that the antichrist “shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt” (Dan. 11:43). Egypt is here used as a symbol for the entire world. It speaks about the total control of finance as well as the economy. Given the current trend of events, we have reason to believe that this prediction of the concentration of all economic power in one hand will soon be materialised. The central figure in these developments is becoming increasingly visible.
It is interesting that Pope Francis’ video message was addressed to a ministers conference hosted by Kenneth Copeland, one of the most unscrupulous prosperity preachers in the world. Copeland and other prosperity preachers have predicted the coming of a “wealth transfer,” in which the wealth of secular society will fall into the hands of the church. It seems their reason for preaching this transference-of-wealth-doctrine was to prepare Protestants to join the Catholic Church in administering the coming redistribution-of-wealth, advocated by the papacy. The sharing economy propagated by New Age prophet Benjamin Creme (b. 1922) also fits in with this agenda. “Maitreya [the Luciferian world teacher] will emerge as soon as the ‘meltdown’ is global,” says Creme, “and He will advocate the principle of sharing as the only answer to our economic problems. When we see this, we will put into place the plans for redistribution of resources which already exist, waiting to be implemented.” To which existing plans for redistribution is Creme referring here? The description is remarkably similar to that of the papal agenda.
In the event of a collapse of the world economy, these three religious forces – Catholicism, apostate Protestantism, and the esoteric religions – could potentially unite their efforts to establish “social justice” and reshape society on a religious, political and economic level, so as to bring about a universal theocracy. Mrs. Ellen G. White (1827-1915), one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church, anticipated these developments and warned that the time will come when “Papists, Protestants, and worldlings will alike accept the form of godliness without the power, and they will see in this union a grand movement for the conversion of the world, and the ushering in of the long-expected millennium.”
When in the months and years that lie before us Protestants and Catholics rise up in defence of the poor, we would do well to remember their agenda. For more than a century, the ecumenical movement has sought the restoration of Christian unity in imitation of the unity that existed in medieval Europe, when the Roman Catholic Church dominated society: Not a spiritual unity based on the word of God, but a religio-political unity based on an ecclesiastical interpretation of “Christian ethics”, enforced by the state, and applied to every aspect of society. The interfaith movement, the inter-religious counterpart of the ecumenical movement, has a similar agenda. At the initiative of Catholic theologian Hans Küng, the World Parliament of Religions published a “Declaration toward a Global Ethic” in Chicago in 1993. This call for a “global ethic” is but another indication that society is indeed moving towards a universal theocracy under papal leadership. Here we would do well to remember that in medieval times “Christian ethics” became law – Canon Law – and “social justice” was administered by the inquisition, the infamous guardian of ecclesiastical unity. If this is where “Christian charity” will eventually lead the ecumenical movement, it clearly counteracts the LOVE of the church.
Interestingly, the Bible predicts an end-time scenario that we would do well to consider. In the book of Revelation (especially chapters 13, 14, 17 and 18), we read about a religio-political and socio-economic superpower, composed of the leading religious and civil powers of the planet, that imposes its agenda and religion upon the citizens of the world. It will have total control over the economy, for anyone who refuses to bow to its idolatrous system of worship will suffer economic sanctions and will not be able to buy or sell (cf. Rev. 13:16-17). Even capital punishment will not be shunned to force people into submission. Those who refuse to submit to this union of church and state, because they choose to keep the commandments of God rather than the commandments of men, will be deprived of all religious, civil, and economic liberties. Serious Bible-expositors are worried as they observe current developments in the world of politics and religion and see, with increasing clarity, parallels between current events and the end-time scenario predicted in the Bible.
The Reformation Rekindled
In light of all these developments, the question that confronts us at present is the one posed at the outset: Is there still a reason to be a protestant? I have endeavoured to show that the work of the Protestant reformation must continue until the faith, hope, and love of the church are fully restored. This requires a change of heart and renewal of mind that will make us like Jesus Christ in character and deportment, and this transformation can only be wrought in us by obedience to the truth of Scripture. The history of Protestantism reveals that this work of sanctification has been counteracted by a general departure from the Scriptures. This apostasy has unsettled everything the reformers stood for and paved the way for a return of Protestants to the Catholic church. In light of these developments, what we may expect in the not too distant future is a division of Christians into two major camps: All will have to face the choice between a Bible-based Protestantism that earnestly contends for the faith once delivered to the saints, and a watered-down Christianity that will join Rome’s ecumenical and interfaith religion. The former will argue for the purity of the church and seek spiritual power to overcome sin, the latter will exalt the unity of the church and seek political power, purportedly to overcome social injustice. The former will wait for the kingdom of heaven at the second coming of Jesus Christ, while the latter will strive to establish a humanistic and theocratic kingdom on earth. Ultimately, the line of distinction will be drawn between those that accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ by obeying his commandments, and those that accept the supremacy of the Pope by submitting to an ecclesiastical interpretation of Christian ethics. The choice as to which of these groups we want to belong, is ours. The Bible describes the remnant of Bible-believing Christians who remain faithful to God in the last days with the words: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” (Rev. 14:12).
 A.W. Pink, Redeemer’s Return, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library; orig. publ. 1918), Intro., p. 6
 Robert Robinson, Sermons Translated from the Original French of the Late Rev. James Saurin, Vol. II, (Shenectady: William J. M’Cartee, 1813), Sermon XI, The Advantage of Revelation, preface, p. xvii)
 Heinz Dietrich Wendland, ‘The Relevance of Eschatology for Social Ethics’, ER v (July 1953), 4, p. 364
 Samuel Zane Batten, The social task of Christianity; a summons to the new crusade ( New York, Chicago [etc.] : Fleming H. Revell company, 1911), p. 224, 225
 Ronald C. White Jr. and C. Howard Hopkins, The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America (Temple University Press, 1976), p. 199
 Benjamin Creme, Share International, Economic and financial issues – FAQ, retrieved on 21 April 2014 from: http://www.shareintl.org/archives/economics/faq_economic.htm